Doing More with What You Have Is Smart Business Intelligence Strategy


There's a perception that business intelligence is costly, driven at least in part by the wide price ranges of BI solutions, a characteristic that's highlighted in this BeyeNetwork column on mid-market solutions by BI consultant Lyndsay Wise. She notes: "The implication for organizations is that no one set of pricing criteria exists as solutions can range from free software to software priced in the $100,000 range."


One of the easiest ways for organizations to deal with this confusion, especially in a time of budget constraints, is to maximize the value of their existing BI tools. That's the subject of a Computerworld article that offers seven great suggestions for doing so, each one illustrated with a real-world example. I'm sharing some, though not all, of them here as you really should read the entire article.


The first piece of advice, to consolidate tools, may be easier said than done considering the results of a Forrester Research survey published in late 2008 in which more than one out of five respondents said their companies ran at least a half-dozen BI tools. Not only that, but more than half of them also said users often employ desktop tools such as spreadsheets to access information or reports. Still, results can be impressive for organizations that manage to consolidate. Duplicative technologies rarely make sense, and it's obviously not cost-effective if different groups of users perform similar analyses with different tools. When Allstate Insurance Co. shrank its number of data warehouses from 13 to two and eliminated two-thirds of its BI tools (by scrapping redundant ones and those no longer popular with users), it reduced its software license and support costs, as well as user training costs. The move also made it easier for different departments to share data.


The second piece of advice, to involve the business, is one I've repeated often in my posts. For one of my most recent, check out an entry from August on creating BI requirements. Not surprisingly, involving business users can help. Yet it's important not to ask users to just start naming features they'd like. Instead, it's important to use a process-oriented approach. I presented two examples, one from MiPro Consulting's Larry Zagata and the other from DecisionPath Consulting's Steve Williams. Allstate is using BI to improve two processes, managing loss expense ratios and measuring the effectiveness of its call center. While different departments use a variety of metrics, the company's VP of IT says BI tools all support the upstream metrics monitored by senior management.


The third suggestion: Use new data models for new markets. Creativity, Inc., which develops craft products sold through specialty retailers, purchased transactional data from toy, fashion and apparel retailers, added it to its data warehouse and used existing BI software to analyze the information to identify new markets that would be less exposed to competition from low-cost competitors. New products created based on these analyses now account for more than half of the company's sales and represent an even bigger percentage of its margins.


The fourth tip, centralize business intelligence, will be difficult for many of the same reasons as Tip No. 1. Many organizations take a scattershot approach to BI. While this workgroup approach to BI isn't without benefits, it also tends to result in siloed applications and data, which makes it tough to perform cross-functional analysis. A recommended element of centralization is establishing a BI center of excellence.


For the remaining three tips, I encourage you to read the Computerworld piece. My favorite tip is No. 7.